Russell Baker on The Lost Prince
Former New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Russell Baker has been the host of Masterpiece Theatre since 1993. Mr. Baker introduces each program episode, and his personally researched and written comments add context and background to our understanding of the film we're about to watch. His comments frequently provide a uniquely American perspective on the mores and lifestyles of the British.
More commentaries by Russell Baker, as well as commentaries by his predecessor in the hosting chair, Alistair Cooke, can be found for select programs in The Archive.
As calendars tell time, the Europe of 1910 is not far away. Many still among us knew it when they were children. But culturally it feels like a make-believe world in an ancient age -- a world where kings still mattered and servants laid red carpet on the beach when queens went for a seaside stroll.
Germany was ruled by a Caesar, pronounced 'Kaiser' in the Latin manner. And Russia by another, pronounced 'Tsar.' The "Tsar of all Russia" they called him. It was an age that loved the grandiose. There was an emperor in Vienna and an abundance of kings from Scandinavia down through the Balkans to the Aegean Sea. If this swarm of crowned heads and pampered tyrants seems like something out of a book of fairy tales, it may be because they were almost all blood relatives -- cousins who descended from Queen Victoria. The great war of 1914 with its nine million dead can be seen in one sense as the bloodiest family fight in history.
Relationships are still entirely peaceful, however, when we meet the British branch of the family tonight. We're going to see this extraordinary world through the eyes of a child -- a prince of the royal family who was different -- so different that the family tried to hide him from the world. Prince John is not a fictional figure. He was the youngest son of King George V and Queen Mary. Two older brothers became kings of England: Edward VIII and George VI, father of the present queen. Our program tonight is the story of how Prince John came to be the forgotten member of the royal family.
Now, first of two episodes, The Lost Prince.
We are telling the story of the child Prince John, son of England's King George V, whose short life was lived in isolation from most of the world and from most of his family too. John was born in 1905, youngest of six children. Two of his older brothers were to become kings of England -- Edward VIII, who abdicated, and George VI, father of the present queen. It's hard to guess what might have happened had John been the oldest son, and hence, first in line to inherit the crown.
Even as the youngest son, his destiny was bizarre enough. In an age largely ignorant about neurology and holding barbaric ideas about mental disorder, John suffered epileptic seizures and had serious learning problems.
The royal family, especially John's shy German-born mother, Queen Mary, seemed utterly baffled about how to deal with his existence. They began by pretending there was nothing very wrong and went on from there to pretending he didn't exist. The one family member who seemed to love him was the next-to-youngest son, Georgie, who will play a large role in tonight's narrative. The person who loved him most dearly however was his nanny, Charlotte Bill, known in the family as "Lalla."
As we resume tonight the great world war of 1914 is about to begin. We're going to see it unfold through the eyes of Prince John, George, and Lalla.
Concluding episode, The Lost Prince.
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